"The purpose of butterflies will not be found in the few flowers they may inadvertently pollinate. Nor in the number of parasitic wasps they may support...Their purpose is their beauty and the beauty they bring into the lives of those of us who have paused long enough from the cares of the world to listen to their fascinating story."
In Timothy Taylor's "Doves of Townsend," these words, found in the pages of a field guide to butterflies, throw a lifeline to a young woman struggling to stay emotionally afloat in the wake her father's suicide. They help her to explain to herself her father's obsession with beautiful things. They also help her to understand the true value of her father's legacythe family's antiques business, and her own inborn helplessness before the beautiful and the real.
"Doves of Townsend" was chosen the best short story of the year 2000 by the judges of the Journey Prize, the Canadian counterpart to the U.S. O. Henry Prize Story. It and the eight other pieces collected here, many of them already anthologized in Best Canadian Short Stories and other annuals, bring us a new voice in short fiction brilliant, stylish, humorous, and humane. In each of Taylor's tales, certain mysterious things of this worldan antique watch, a mountain of radiators, a racing-form, a constellationreveal their beauty to those who have eyes to see. To read Silent Cruise is to see this poignant beauty for oneself, and, like Taylor's characters, to have one's life irresistibly changed by it.
-Shaun Smith, Quill & Quire (starred review)
Author Biography: Timothy Taylor is the author of the novel Stanley Park, a Canadian best seller and a finalist for last year's Giller Prize, the country's premier prize in fiction. His short stories have won many Canadian literary prizes, including the 1999 National Magazine Award Silver Medal in Fiction and the year 2000 Journey Prize. Born in Venezuela in 1963, he lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, and is currently at work on a second novel.
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About the Author
Timothy Taylor is the recent recipient of a National Magazine Award Gold Medal and the only writer ever to have three stories selected and published simultaneously in the Journey Prize Anthology. His short fiction has appeared in Canada’s leading literary magazines and has been anthologized in such publications as Best Canadian Stories, Coming Attractions and Islands West. His novel, Stanley Park, was a national bestseller and a finalist for The Giller Prize. He lives in Vancouver.
Read an Excerpt
DOVES OF TOWNSEND
"Doves of Townsend, good morning."
This is me, answering the phone at the shop. After which I frequently end up explaining the inherited family name. Sometimes (I admit) tired of telling the real story, I'll make something up. "There's a flock of doves found in Townsend, my Dad's hometown," I'll start. Then I finish the story by saying the birds hunt as a pack and kill cats, or that they bring good luck if you catch one and pull out a tail feather. The mood of the story rides up and down on the sine wave of my menstrual cycle.
The truth is plain. My father came from Townsend and he was a fanatical collector. Knives, as it happens, but it could have been anything. Magpie, hoarder, packrat, whatever you want to call him, I had long understood him to be obsessive-compulsive within certain categories. His suicide note read: I fear I have covered the full length of this blade. But at auctions, where he lived the happy parts of his life, he held up his wooden paddle and said his last name so the auctioneer would know who was bidding. "Dove," he'd say, eyes never leaving whatever dagger, cleaver, oiseau or machete had captivated him. And then -- in case there was another Dove in the room -- he'd say it again, louder: "Doves of Townsend."
So, here I am: "Doves of Townsend?"
It was two months ago, Alexander Galbraithe calling. He wanted a set of chrome 1940s ashtrays, the ones with the DC-3 doing the flypast over the cigar butts. I've known Mr Galbraithe since I was a child. When my father started Doves of Townsend as an extension of his own collecting (a very bad idea I came to think), Mr Galbraithe was one of his first steadybuyers. I assume he stayed with me out of allegiance or sympathy, since after Dad's death I sold off the knife collection quickly and resolved never to replace it.
"Clare?" he said. "Are you familiar with the airplane ones?"
I knew he was talking about the famous deco ashtray since none of the other things he collects – coach clocks, cigar cutters, Iranian block-print textiles, even knives as far as I know – come in an aeroplane model.
"Pedestal or tabletop?" I asked him. "Illuminated?"
We began to work out the specs.
"Real?" I asked, breathing a little into the phone. "Or fake?"
Mr Galbraithe didn't laugh often, although he found many things funny. What he did, instead, was roll his massive balding head back an inch or two, squint slightly and crinkle his cheeks. When he was done, he'd roll his head back to its normal position and resume where he left off.
This is what he did now. I could tell over the phone. And when he had returned he said, "Clare. My dear. Really."
It pays to be straight on this real-fake question. There's no point looking for something real, something authentic and old and possibly rare, if the client has no preference. My former-sometimes-boyfriend Tiko used to send art directors my way from time to time, and all they cared about was that an object look good on camera. Some collectors, on the other hand, collect fakes. So go figure.
What's bad, clearly, is to get fake when you're after real. Most dealers will learn this the hard way even if they resist being obsessive collectors themselves. Me, for example. I was just starting out. Dad had been gone a year, and I overcame all the good sense I had and bought a set of les Freres locking steak knifes. I literally saw them in a shop window, stopped on the sidewalk – reconsidering everything I had resolved after my father slipped somewhere beyond reach, after he did what he did – then went in and bought them. Of course, I knew the famous French maker produced knives that were rare and beautiful, knives with a four-inch hand-forged blade folding into black pear-wood handle with silver inlay and locking in place with a tiny gold clasp in the shape of a dove. I knew the les Freres dove had meant something special to my father, among all his knives. These were the first I had seen since his death and, for that instant, I was host to a perfectly synchronous collector's impulse.
What this lapse taught me was never to buy a thing merely because it is rare and beautiful and you are able to construe some tangled family significance. What I didn't know then was the number of les Freres reproduction steak knives that had been made over the years by Spanish, Korean and other manufacturers. When I learned this, which was soon enough, I sold my Taiwanese fakes for about one-twentieth what I paid for them. To Mr Galbraithe, in fact, who rescued me. Tried to pay much more than they were worth, but I wouldn't let him.
"You see the clasp here, Clare?" he explained very kindly. "The reproduction clasps are stamped flat from stainless steel, then gold-plated. A real les Freres has a hammered dove figurine, sculpted in three dimensions, in 18-karat gold."
"Fake," I said, shaking my head. "I should have known."
"But now you have seen it," he said, putting a large hand weightlessly on my shoulder. "I am quite sure you won't miss it again."
He was a huge presence, six-and-a-half feet tall; God knows how many pounds. In his other hand, the knife looked like an antique folding toothpick I'd once seen at auction. Mr Galbraithe always leaned a little forward when we spoke, canted just so, careful to hear and understand everything that I said. He wore dark, heavy double-breasted suits and two-tone black and white shoes. Tiko met him once and referred to him thereafter as Sidney Greenstreet, although he looked nothing like that. He brought to mind the force of gravity, yes, but not the crushing pressure of it. Instead, he made me think of the way some large things elegantly defy it. I've looked at suspension bridges the way I looked at Mr Galbraithe.
He folded the fake les Freres into his palm, first popping the gold-plated clasp with his thumb, then clicking shut the blade with his fingers. Then he wrote me a cheque using a large black fountain pen. In the nineteenth century, I thought on occasion, with my father gone and no family remaining, I would have married the widowed Mr Galbraithe, friend of my father and life long presence. The thirty-year age difference would have seemed, I think, to be much less.
"You have an eye for the fine line," Mr Galbraithe said to me another time, admiring a more successful purchase. I thought the words left unsaid were something like: but be careful, so did your father.